Entertainment & Arts

Obituary: Dame Beryl Bainbridge

Novelist Dame Beryl Bainbridge, who has died at the age of 75, was one of the UK's most popular and prolific authors.

She started her career as an actress in Liverpool, but continued to entertain throughout her working life as a writer.

Dame Beryl drew heavily on her early career in her 1989 book An Awfully Big Adventure, about a theatre company, which was later made into a film starring Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman.

It was one of more than 20 novels, screenplays and TV series she wrote during her career, the majority based on her own experiences and her relationship with three key men in her life.

"I always base the characters on me," she told a BBC documentary in 2007.

"If I could take a leap forward and invent somebody that's not me it would be alright, but I don't do that. I feel alienated, detached from it, and that's the worry."

Suicide attempt

Dame Beryl was born in Lancashire in 1934 and was educated at Liverpool's Merchant Taylors' School.

Her early career as an actress took her from Liverpool Repertory Theatre to a role in Coronation Street.

She tried to commit suicide in her 20s when going through a difficult patch. Recalling the incident in an interview, she said: "Putting one's head in the oven, yes, I think I was probably trying to draw attention to myself. I am terribly ashamed. I was a bit miserable. When one is young, one has these ups and downs."

Dame Beryl had been a keen writer as a child and wrote her first novel, Harriet Said, in the 1950s.

Image caption Dame Beryl's literary career began in the 1960s

It was continually rejected by publishers and did not make it into print until 1972 when her novels A Weekend With Claude (1967) and Another Part of the Wood (1968) were already in print.

Most of her books during the 1970s and 1980s were semi-autobiographical but she later moved into historical fiction, first with 1991's The Birthday Boys - about Scott's last expedition to the Pole.

Master Georgie, published in 1998 was set during the Crimean War.

Everyman for Himself (1996), set on board The Titanic, won the Whitbread Novel Award.

Dame Beryl won the literary award twice, also for Injury Time (1977) and was nominated for the Booker Prize a record five times.

Those nominations were for The Dressmaker (1973); The Bottle Factory Outing (1974); An Awfully Big Adventure (1990); Every Man for Himself (1996); and Master Georgie (1998).

Despite being dubbed the "perpetual Booker Prize bridesmaid", Dame Beryl told the BBC in 2008 that she was delighted to be shortlisted so many times.

'No standards'

In later years, her once-prolific writing slowed with her final books - According to Queeny and The Girl In The Polka-Dot Dress - published in 2001 and 2008 respectively.

In an interview with The Guardian in 2007, Dame Beryl - who received her damehood in 2000 - said: "It was easier when I was young because I had no standards - I would just write.

"It was wonderful, I wouldn't bother whether it was any good. It gets worse the more you know - your standards go up and up and you realise you can't reach them."

At the age of 71, convinced it was the age she was destined to die, Dame Beryl made a documentary with her grandson, called Beryl's Last Year, which was shown on BBC Four.

It detailed her upbringing and eventful life, as well as her attempts to write a novel, Dear Brutus, which she decided to leave unfinished.

"Everybody should write down, as best they can, before they die, what they think they were like," she said.

"Then their children would get an entirely different idea of who they were."

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